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The entire historical course of transforming the Roman Catholic Church into a powerful secular monarchy persistently led to its inevitable departure from the principles of the Universal Church and internal contradiction. The principle of general unconditional obedience was linked not to the Holy Roman Church but its sole leader – the Pope. The latter acted as the sovereign of the monarchs, resorting to armed force to suppress heresies and completing a series of crusades.
In the sphere of moral concepts, there was a departure of Roman Christianity from the Gospel principles. The doctrines of papal indulgences and satisfaction for sins distracted the attention of laity from striving for moral purity and directed to ways of avoiding punishments.1 Among other challenges, there was simony, the replacement of church positions with people completely inappropriate for pastoral service, the decline of morality among the clergy, large fees, and overall excessive enrichment of the Church.
Martin Luther, a German theologian who was indignant by the widespread trade in indulgences, decided to hold a theological dispute over the identified situation. He disputed whether a sinful soul could be saved for money as the Pope and the Roman curia asserted. According to Luther, this was contrary to the Scriptures and the very idea of a church. The theologian considered that a sinful person who truly believed in an omnipotent and perfect God becomes righteous in His eyes, and he or she does not need any indulgences.2
Justification understood as forgiveness of sins is, according to Luther, exclusively God’s grace that does not depend on a person’s actions, righteous deeds, or money. The dissatisfaction with the activity of the church had already begun to rise among the laity, but nobody spoke about it since people were frightened to fall into disgrace of the Pope of Rome.
The assumptions proposed by Luther undermined the foundation on which the spiritual power of Catholicism was built and threatened to destroy this foundation completely. Through his theses, Luther declared that the church should not be a mediator between a person and God. It was also claimed that the Pope is not entitled to give absolution because a man can save his or her soul only through faith in the Lord but not by means of the church.3
At first, the Pope paid no attention to the mentioned ideas since he regarded them as the manifestations of feuds between parishes, which were quite common in that period. Then, the Church regarded Luther’s ideas as threatening, which was based on extremely raising confusion among people and support to such ideas. As a result, the Reformation as a broad religious and socio-political movement in Western and Central Europe of the 16th and early 17th century aimed at reforming Catholic Christianity in accordance with the Bible.
The impact of Luther’s reforms on the laity was enormous since the theological rejected the Papal decree forbidding continuing the controversy and continued to struggle against the infringement of church foundations. Luther wrote and published three temperamentally written books in which he outlined his program, including ting the papal yoke from Germany, abolishing monasticism, priesthood, and ecclesiastical landownership, and focusing on baptism and communion.
In particular, the following actions were suggested: to cancel the mass and cult of the saints as idolatry since God does not need intermediaries, open free access to the Bible, as well as eliminate indulgences and overall secular power. The speech of the identified theologian shook the laity who started to organize the movement, which demanded church transformations and the elimination of monastic rules. Luther gained special support among the emerging capitalists as the papal church rejected the commercial activity along with the economic autonomy of the population by denouncing personal savings.
Luther was a key persona that affected the onset and further transformation of the Catholic Church. As stated by Luther, the focal idea of the Reformation was to non-violently restrict the authority of the Pope of Rome without conflicts. However, the unstructured demonstrations of the population were often followed by massacres of Catholic parishes. Luther began with a critique of indulgences and simplified views on repentance in the Roman Catholic Church, and he came to rather important spiritual and practical generalizations that aimed people at a new attitude to God, the church, and social foundations.
The impact of Luther was revolutionary as it changed the attitudes of people towards the very way of life. The market economy, technical progress, social protection institutions, and struggle for various rights – all these consequences were promoted by the Reformation.
Speaking of Luther’s understanding of God, it is important to pinpoint that his ideas changed with time. In particular, the goal of his life was striving towards God, believing that the soul needs God’s mercy, and it is saved only when it follows the Word of God.4 The adoption of the thesis of salvation by personal faith, which implies opening one’s soul to the action of God’s grace, contributed to the formation of anti-Catholic and, eventually, an anti-Pap sentiment. Time of the Diet of Worms was the most brilliant moment in Luther’s life – he was not yet the founder of the new church, but he defended the right of people to freedom of conscience. His true greatness was that he solemnly, in the face of the whole world, declared that there is a part of a human life with which no power can interfere.
The main statement of Luther was the idea that the church organization as an intermediary between God and a man is not needed as every believer can communicate directly with God through prayer, fasting, and reading the Bible.5 No one should authoritatively and coercively instruct people in matters of faith, and they have the right and the ability to decide how to believe and what to do in life. In other words, Luther attempted to state that every person perceives God differently, and it is correct until the universal norms are followed. The provision of a specific definition might lead to social, political, and economic problems based on the fact that Luther wanted to integrate various social layers and resolve the largest political and economic concerns.
In conclusion, it is essential to emphasize that the Reformation was largely driven by Luther’s 95 theses and arguments. They showed the decline of the papal church and defended theological approaches to the ideology of bourgeois emancipation. The theologian justified the secularization of church property and legitimized the shift in property relations in favor of the burghers and nobility. The doctrine of justification only by faith and the priesthood of all believers were put in the foundation of the reformational ideology consistent with the interests of the burghers, the humanist intelligentsia, and laity.
Bobo, David. “The Concept of the Church in the Reformation Movement.” Restoration Quarterly 2 (1958): 220-227.
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Luther, Martin. Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the power and efficacy of indulgences. Delhi: Prabhat Prakashan, 2000.
“Selected Works of Martin Luther 1483 – 1546.” Internet Christian Library. Web.
Surburg, Raymond F. The Significance of Luther’s Hermeneutics for the Protestant Reformation. Missouri, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1953.
Wiesner, Merry E. Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789. 3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
- Raymond F. Surburg, The Significance of Luther’s Hermeneutics for the Protestant Reformation (Missouri, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1953), 243.
- Martin Luther, Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the power and efficacy of indulgences (Delhi: Prabhat Prakashan, 2000), 2.
- David Bobo, “The Concept of the Church in the Reformation Movement,” Restoration Quarterly 2 (1958): 221.
- Merry E. Wiesner, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789, 3rd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 155.
- “Selected Works of Martin Luther 1483 – 1546,” Internet Christian Library. Web.